August 5, 2016
The vocations boom continues in the Bismarck Diocese.
Two men were ordained in May—Doug Krebs to the priesthood and Greg Luger to the transitional diaconate. Six more men have recently been accepted to the formation program with two are still considering. The diocese will have 29 men in formation for the priesthood this fall.
To get a better idea of the dramatic increase in vocations that have occurred in recent years, take a look at the ordination numbers from the past three decades.
During the 1980’s there were 12 men ordained who currently serve this diocese and during the following decade, a total of 16 men were ordained. Then, in 2000-2009, there were 24 new priests. During the first six years since 2010, there have already been 13 ordinations.
The power of prayer
Seventeen years ago, an informal group at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit began praying together for one hour every Monday night before the Blessed Sacrament, asking God for an increase in vocations. It was in response to a Sunday homily a few years earlier by Fr. Thomas Kramer (now deceased), the pastor of Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
He had shared that the average age of our priests in the diocese was in the fifties. Factoring in the number of seminarians at the time and those expected to retire, the five-year projection was bleak. “Pray for vocations,” Fr. Kramer pleaded.
And so people prayed. “For vocations to the priesthood” was an ever-present intention at Masses. Schools prayed daily and groups included it in their prayers before meetings. It was that plea that also led to the formation of the Monday prayer group dedicated to vocations.
The group continues with around a dozen members, many of them present since the beginning. The reason, as some of the members have explained, is that they never again want to take our priests for granted.
Vocations follow adoration
Rita Ciavarella is credited with starting the group. “I flew out to a conference in St. Louis that was encouraging adoration to pray for vocations,” she explained. “My son Louis was in the seminary there at the time. I was terrified because I had never flown before, but Louis convinced me that this was important.”
She learned that in dioceses where there was Eucharistic adoration for vocations, an increase in priests usually followed.
When Rita returned home, she received permission from Fr. Kramer to invite people through word of mouth, to join her for an hour of prayer dedicated to vocations. Although her son eventually discerned out of the priesthood, married and has three children now, she said she continues to pray for priests as a sort of spiritual mother.
Donna Harvey said that she and her husband Bob have been coming since 2000, the year their own son, Fr. Fred was ordained a priest. That ordination on May 25, 2000 was a record-breaker for the diocese with six ordained.
“It’s interesting to note that it was a second career for all of them,” Donna said.
It would seem that God was answering prayers and had called these men out of the world to come serve him as priests. Fr. Fred Harvey had been a U.S. Marshal, Fr. Frank Shuster was a farmer, Fr. David Richter completed a degree and had interned as an engineer, Fr. Daniel Berg was an accountant, Fr. Chris Kadrmas had worked an occupational therapist and Fr. Terry Wipf was a teacher.
During the hour of prayer, Donna explained that there are prayers said out loud for an increase in vocations and also for the spiritual protection of priests, a rosary is said, and there is time for quiet reflection.
Nancy and Don Polasky joined the prayer group 15 years ago.
“I love it,” Nancy said. “It’s beautiful. The hour flies by.”
She explained that the reason she and Don come faithfully every week is due to their love and respect for the priesthood.
“You have to love those men who have dedicated their lives to being a priest,” she said. “We are praying to God that He will call good men to become priests; they are our shepherds. I think He has heard our prayers.”
Numbers tell the story
Judging by the numbers, it appears that He has heard those prayers.
Fr. Josh Waltz, Vocation Director for the diocese, said that in order to illustrate how well our diocese is doing now, he uses a per-capita comparison with the diocese of Detroit.
“The Detroit Diocese has around 1.5 million Catholics and 34 seminarians,” he said. “We have around 60,000 Catholics and 26 seminarians; that’s 1 for every 2,300 Catholics. For the Detroit diocese to have that same number per capita, they would need to have 650 seminarians.”
According to Fr. Waltz, the response to the priesthood for our diocese is Scriptural: “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few; beg the harvest master to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9: 35-38).
“The more we have people praying and asking the Father for workers, the more they are going to come forward,” he said. According to him, there are prayer apostolates among contemplative orders and in nursing homes and other types of prayer support throughout the diocese including holy hours by the priests themselves.
“I would say that the fact we are doing so well here is a tribute to prayer,” Fr. Waltz said. “It is the binding force.”
The vocation prayer group is open to anyone who wants to come pray at the small chapel in Cathedral of the Holy Spirit church on Mondays from 7-8 p.m.
There are a few a lay groups within the diocese dedicated to in the foster, affirm, and promote vocations. The Vocations Club in Minot assists people with all vocations; Bev Cushing at 839-6635 can be contacted for more information. In addition, there are two diocesan chapters of the Serra Club that support vocations to the priesthood and vowed religious life. Contact Bismarck chapter President Lonnie Decker at 258-5697 or Mike Ruelle in Minot at 839-4365.